An occasional look at family-friendly theater around Washington. (Shows are appropriate for age 4 and older unless noted.)
There are many opportunities for theater-crazy kids to take part in professional shows at holiday time, including "Annie" at Olney Theatre Center.
In a raucous rehearsal room upstairs at Olney last month, a group of girls ages 10 to 14 went through their paces as singing, dancing orphans. Choreographer Rachel Leigh Dolan oversaw their kicks and shuffles in "You're Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile," one of the sunniest songs in the show, which is at the theater through Dec. 31.
The titular character is played by 13-year-old Noelle Robinson of Severn, Md. Already a pro, she appeared as Scrooge's younger sister Fan in Ford's Theatre's "A Christmas Carol," and as Little Inez in "Hairspray" at Toby's Dinner Theatre. But she regards Annie as "my first main role, my first big role." Noelle is schooled at home with online classes.
She said she viewed Annie as "very tough" but with a "soft side to her," especially with her sister orphans. "She's kind of like their mother, since Miss Hannigan doesn't do that for them. She's the one that takes care of all of them . . . but then she's also the one that tries to escape and the one that stands up to Miss Hannigan when others don't feel strong enough to."
In rehearsals, Noelle added, director Jason King Jones talked to her and all the girls about their characters' backstories. "How much they remember their parents, if they remember them at all . . . so we can understand the characters more, so we can kind of be them more," she said.
Jones has cast his revival of the 1977 Tony-winning blockbuster (music by Charles Strouse, lyrics by Martin Charnin, book by Thomas Meehan) to look more like America, he says, while sticking to the original script. Actors of color play Annie and Daddy Warbucks (Kevin McCallister), and Baltimore/Washington music theater veteran Rob McQuay, who uses a wheelchair in real life, plays FDR. The show's Depression-era New York setting feels timely and even quite local to Jones. "When you have an ensemble that looks and represents more authentically the diverse country . . . then we tell a better story. And I wanted an orphanage and I wanted a New York City that looked more like what Washington, D.C., and Montgomery County look like today, so that girls from any background can see themselves in Annie."
"Annie." Through Dec. 31 at Olney Theatre Center, 2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Rd., Olney, Md. 301-924-3400. olneytheatre.org. $42-$90.
How cool is it for a kid in love with theater to get the chance to work with a cast of Shakespearean actors and join them in bringing the Bard's words to life?
Pretty cool, if you're 13-year-old Koral Kent, who goes to Plum Point Middle School in Huntingtown, Md., or 12-year-old Tyler Bowman, who attends Cooper Middle School in McLean, Va. Each has professional credits already: Tyler was in Signature Theatre's "Freaky Friday" last year and Arena Stage's "Watch on the Rhine" this year. He has done film and television. Koral understudied the lead role of Mary Lennox in "The Secret Garden" last year at the Shakespeare Theatre Company and has been in TV commercials and community theater. Now they're alternating the part of Fabian in Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night," running through Dec. 20.
Chatting after a rehearsal last month, both young people said they wanted to make acting their life's work. "When I was really young," said Tyler, "I didn't think this would be my kind of thing, but when I got into all these other plays and commercials and movies, I'm like, wow, this is really cool. And so I said to myself, I'm either going to be an actor, or I'm going to be a director." Right now, he said he expects he'll "stick to acting."
Said Koral, "I like acting because I can be whoever I want to be. And I can build special relationships — like Tyler, for example," giving her co-Fabian a sidelong glance. The pair seemed to have a pleasantly sarcastic brother-sisterish rapport.
In this staging of Shakespeare's fable about a shipwreck, with lost siblings, misdirected love and hidden identities, Koral's and Tyler's Fabian has about 50 lines. Fabian is a servant in the house of the aristocratic Olivia and takes part in a wicked practical joke played on Olivia's sniffy major-domo, Malvolio (Derek Smith).
Director Ethan McSweeny decided to give "Twelfth Night" a modern twist and set its opening scene in an airport's international departure lounge. Characters leave the so-called real world and find themselves — after an oceanic plane crash instead of a shipwreck — in the romantic land of Illyria. McSweeny decided to cast Fabian as a child, and he needed two young actors to alternate in the part. He and his team figured Fabian's gender didn't matter, but they had to choose either two girls or two boys. Then, at auditions, "the two we liked best were one of each," he recalled. "And I said, 'Well, why don't we build them two different costumes and they alternate . . . one night Fabian's a boy and one night's Fabian's a girl, and it doesn't matter at all.' And it's just wonderful."
"Twelfth Night." Through Dec. 20 at Shakespeare Theatre Company's Sidney Harman Hall, 610 F St. NW. 202-547-1122. shakespearetheatre.org. $44-$118. Recommended for age 8 and older.
A world premiere musical celebrating the early life of primatologist Jane Goodall and her toy chimpanzee, Me . . . Jane: The Dreams & Adventures of Young Jane Goodall, based on the book by Patrick McDonnell, adapted by McDonnell, Aaron Posner and Andy Mitton, with music and lyrics by Mitton and directed by Posner, starring Erin Weaver as Jane. Saturday-Dec. 10 at the Kennedy Center Family Theater, 2700 F St. NW. 202-467-4600. kennedy-center.org. $20-$25. Recommended for age 6 and older.
The holiday offering at Imagination Stage will be an adaptation by Joseph Robinette of E.B. White's beloved book, Charlotte's Web, featuring live music and aerial silks artist and actress Shanara Gabrielle as the spider Charlotte and other characters, all directed by Kathryn Chase Bryer. Saturday-Jan. 7 at Imagination Stage, 4908 Auburn Ave., Bethesda. 301-280-1660. $14-$32. Recommended for age 5 and older.
Frosty the Snow Man, who began life as a pop song in 1950, will cavort across the stage and try not to melt in a show by William Francis (book), Steve Nelson and Jack Rollins (music and lyrics), directed by Jason Schlafstein. Sunday-Dec. 31 at Adventure Theatre MTC, 7300 MacArthur Blvd., Glen Echo. 301-634-2270. adventuretheatre-mtc.org. $19.50.
For the latest installment in its Family Theater series, Synetic is doing a wordless, movement-centric adaptation of the Brothers Grimm fairy tale Hansel & Gretel, adapted, directed and choreographed by Tori Bertocci and Elena Velasco. Dec. 1-23 at Synetic Theater, 1800 S. Bell St., Arlington. 866-811-4111. synetictheater.org. $20.
Two very different Christmas Carols open soon: a one-man show in Olney Theatre Center's intimate Theatre Lab, inspired by Dickens's own fabled solo performances, starring actor/adapter Paul Morella; and Ford's Theatre's stage-filling production, starring Craig Wallace in his second year as Scrooge. "A Christmas Carol: A Ghost Story of Christmas," Nov. 24-Dec. 31 at Olney Theatre Center, 2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Rd., Olney, Md. 301-924-3400. olneytheatre.org. $20-$40. Recommended for age 10 and older. "A Christmas Carol," through Dec. 31 at Ford's Theatre, 511 10th St. NW. 888-616-0270. fords.org. $32-$105. No one younger than 5 admitted.